Sociology Paradox: Winning is Losing

Oh we kid the MOOCs around here, what with their non-research based, pedagogically unsound, sociologically ignorant form and function. But, Udacity’s tacit acknowledgement today that credentials have to be descriptive to have utility is a hollow victory.

Oh, sure, I will still have a vodka martini at news that one of the largest MOOCs will no longer offer free no-identification credentialing. How can I not? The hype was that MOOCs would overturn a hundred years of social science with a modem and a functionalist dream. MOOCs were to end race, class, and gender bias in credentialing! It would be like the Civil Rights Movement and Feminist movements and union movements had always had it wrong. Surely, sociologists — who have studied credentialing for about 70 years now — would be wrong. And then today, from Udacity’s website:


We have now heard from many students and employers alike that they would like to see more rigor in certifying actual accomplishments. We owe it to you, our hard working students, that we do whatever we can to ensure your certificate is as valuable as possible.  So effective May 16, we will stop offering free non-identity-verified certificates. The courseware will still be available, so you can still learn for free. But you can’t get our credentials unless you give us a chance to find out who you are and vouch for your skills. 


The anti-institution movement is now to become an institution. You can’t get your credentials unless you give them a chance to find out WHO you are. It’s so sociological I could do an interpretative dance to Weber’s “Class, Status, and Party” in its honor.

But, as is often the case, winning at social theory means losing as folks. Because no one would benefit more from functionalist returns to merit than would people about whom I care a great deal. But, alas, that still isn’t how we work. Udacity finally concedes it. I think Coursera has, too. Stratification wins. Yay.

2 thoughts on “Sociology Paradox: Winning is Losing

  1. It only makes sense that to qualify someone with credentials you have to know who they are and if they have acquired the skills that were being taught. I still like the idea that the information is still free and available. To have a credit in hand requires a little more.

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